Early modern shipwrecks: historical evidence of Venetian shipwrecks around Cyprus and the Levantine coast, 1474-1550

“Alas! How many ships have foundered there! How many vessels have been broken upon these rocks! Here might be seen an innumerable host of ships: some broken in pieces and half-buried in sand; here is visible the poop of one, and there a prow; here a keel and there a rib; and it seems like a day of judgment when there shall be a resurrection of dead ships, so great is the mass that covers the whole northern shore. There the northern winds resounding make strange and fearful noises.” [1] Leonardo Da Vinci, the Island of Cyprus

These were the impressions of the island of Cyprus, as noted by Leonardo Da Vinci during the reign of Catherine Cornaro, in the late Fifteenth century. Indeed, at his time, sunken ships abandoned along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. The great quantity of shipwrecks testifies for the intense marine traffic in the Levant during the early modern period, when ships and boats of every size and type crossed these seas to gain a share of its wealth. As was already demonstrated by researchers, the great Oceanic discoveries of the late-fifteenth century did not reduce maritime shipping in the Mediterranean, but were rather a major factor in the development of free market conditions in this sector.

The principal objective of this project is to make possible the detection and identification of shipwrecks, by matching archaeological finds with evidence found in Venetian historical records, and to provide new evidence of shipwrecks unknown to underwater archeologists.

The project was made possible by a generous research grant from the Honor Frost Foundation, which supports projects in marine and maritime archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean. The project welcomes collaborations with marine archaeologists currently working on the excavation of shipwrecks dated to this period, the mapping of shipwrecks, historical maps or visualization tools for marine data.

This site is still under development. Newly discovered data will be added as the research advances.

For reasons related to the organization of archival research, we have focused for the time being on the years 1474 – 1550 and on the shores of Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean coasts, between Alexandria (Egypt) and Tripoli (Lebanon), and on a few cases of wrecks in mid sea. Visit our About the Data page for more information and future developments. Explore our database of shipwrecks by clicking on the pointers on the map, or by using the ‘view’ button in the database.

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If you are a marine archaeologist, historian, student, or just love shipwrecks, we would welcome your feedbacks and comments.

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Renard Gluzman,
The Early Modern Shipwrecks Project

[1] Leonardo Da Vinci, The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, ed. & trans.by Jean Paul Richter (1955, New York), p. 371.